I'm about to go geeky pretty hard here, so be warned. There's actual news just below this and more on the way, so just scroll if you get overwhelmed. But, in the spirit of fun and extreme nerdiness, I've just completed an analysis of Star Trek episodes in search of environmental themes.
Actually, I can't say that I completed an analysis, 'cause, really, I know the plots of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes pretty well. Mostly I just thought about it for a while.
The Star Trek future is largely an environmentally neutral one. Science and technology have allowed us to solve a great number of environmental problems, and the moral scope of our species has begun to encompass all life, not just human life. It's a wonderful world where climate change isn't a problem, we have no need for fossil fuels and population pressures no longer affect planets.
But even in the Utopian future of Star Trek, environmental problems do arise.
More after the Jump
Sometimes, environmental problems haunt us from our past. Remember the plot of Star Trek IV, The Voyage Home? That's right, the future of the Earth depends on the existence of humpback whales and, darnit, they went extinct in the 21st century. Star Trek can solve this problem in a sinch, just go back in time to 20th century Earth and drop the enterprise down in front of a whaling vessel, beam the humpbacks aboard and then return to the 27th century. Voila! The problem of extinction is solved.
Sometimes the problem is with other races, for example in “Final Mission,” an abandoned garbage barge carrying radioactive waste finds its way into the orbit of Gamilon Five. No one wants to deal with the waste in an example that is clearly reminiscent of today's unclaimed garbage barges. But now an entire planet is being poisoned by the radioactive waste. But for the Enterprise, it's a simple fix, tow the barge into a nearby star!
But the problems become more complex and serious when the humans of the future themselves are responsible. In “Home Soil,” for example the Enterprise discovers that some human scientists, while mining and terraforming a seemingly barren planet, have in fact been killing silicon life-forms. The little crystal beings call them humans “ugly bags of mostly water,” and fight back, but in the end with a little arm-flexing from Picard, war is averted and the planet is left to the silicon life-forms.
The only true environmental crisis of the Star Trek universe didn't hit for another five years. In “Forces of Nature” aliens begin to disable warp-drive ships nearby their planet without apparent provocation. They claim that the combined effects of warp travel over the same area of space over prolonged periods can result in a weakening of space-time and that the effect is beginning to negatively affect their planet.
At first the Federation calls them insane terrorists and won't look at their data. They say that more research needs to be done and that the aliens are fundamentalist fools. In the end, one of the aliens sacrifices herself to prove that their theories are correct and the Star Fleet is forced to agree that warp drives can harm space-time and might negatively affect planets.
The Federation soon puts restrictions on warp travel and throughout the rest of the series on Star Ship is seen traveling above warp five unless it is an emergency.
But, true to Star Trek form, a new class of warp engines (variable geometry engines) such as the ones on the USS Voyager make the speed restrictions unnecessary. And yes, I realize I just got very very geeky.
There are a lot of people in the world who've spent more than 100 hours watching Star Trek and I'm one of them. What we learned is that minds should be open and solutions are attainable. And that a better world is never too far away.
written by Larkspur, August 12, 2007
written by Dr. Ellen, September 29, 2007
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